U faces fiery Indiana offense

by Murali Balaji

The story of the Gophers’ season can be summed up by three words: lack of dimension.
Whether it’s their pathetic efforts to muster a ground game or their inability to defend against the pass, Minnesota hasn’t put together a complete game all season.
This week, they face two challenges. One is whether they can stop Indiana quarterback Antwaan Randle El, a player that has excelled in the field of improvisation and playmaking. The other obstacle lies within their ability to actually run the ball against a bad defense.

Gophers on offense
The offense is playing like it’s demoralized and unglued at the seams. To describe their production as erratic and enigmatic would only be stating the obvious. With two games left on the schedule, the Gophers must begin to find a flow that can at least be used for optimism heading into next season.
The Hoosiers’ defense may allow the Gophers some leeway; Indiana is ranked dead last in the Big Ten in yardage allowed, and the defense has made a habit of giving up big plays. Outside linebacker Jabar Robinson is a solid defender who excels in getting to the football, and the Gophers must keep him blocked if they hope to establish any sort of ground game.
The success of running back Thomas Hamner is paramount to this game. He has run tentatively throughout much of the season, and his inability to hit the holes has severely hindered hopes of an offensive balance.
The offensive line, which has played horrendously at times, will need to protect quarterback Billy Cockerham, particularly on the flanks. Indiana defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound pass-rushing terror, will move around in an effort to create mismatches against tackles Adam Haayer and Troy Duerr.
Key matchup: Hamner versus the Indiana defense.
This will be the best chance for the 185-pound Hamner to establish himself against a bad defensive football team. Indiana is a fast unit, but their defenders tend to overcommit and make too many mental errors. Hamner is a speed runner, and if he can break plays to the outside, there could be a lot of running room and potential big plays. If he can’t gain ground against a less-than-effective run defense, he could find his starting spot and future role on the team in jeopardy.
Gophers on defense
Make no mistake: unless the Gophers stop Randle El, they will become mere spectators as the Indiana offense marches the ball up and down the field against them.
Randle El has a powerful fullback in senior Chris Gall, a 6-foot-1, 240-pound bruiser who hasn’t been stopped for a loss yet this season. The Gophers’ undersized front seven must be able to shed their blocks quickly in order to contain Randle El in the pocket, or they may find themselves on the wrong side of a highlight reel.
And then there is receiver Tyrone Browning, who has emerged as one of the better receivers in the Big Ten. The Gophers’ defenders will look to break the rhythm between Browning and Randle El by playing more press coverages.
“I’ve been telling our guys that he’s kind of Luke Leverson,” Gophers’ defensive coordinator David Gibbs said. “He’s not real big or fast, but he just makes plays.”
Key matchup: Gophers’ defense versus Randle El.
The Gophers have had two outstanding performances defending against the run. Now they must stop a player who can air it out if the run doesn’t work.
If the Gophers seal off the outside, Randle El will be hard-pressed to find room to run between the tackles. The defense will look to keep Randle El contained in the pocket as long as they can in order to prevent him from breaking a long scramble.
If they fail to slow him down, Randle El could cut through the defense and find himself doing a few end zone celebrations.